Sex(ism) sells! Adverts tend to focus on simple messages, which is why they often rely on lazy stereotypes to sell products. Women find themselves reduced to silent decoration, while men in “ad land” are apparently unable to operate a washing machine.

In Berlin, proposals have been put forward to ban sexist advertising on billboards across the city (and a ban has already been in place in at least one neighbourhood since 2014). Is this a progressive step toward gender equality? Or neo-puritanism disguised as feminism? Where do the boundaries lie between bad taste and outright sexism?

Advertising is ubiquitous, whether we encounter it in out and about, while watching TV, or surfing online. Since it’s so all-pervasive, we tend to switch off and do our best to ignore it, which is why naked bodies are so often deployed to try and yank our attention back again. But how much provocation is allowed?

The British Advertising Standards Authority has announced it intends to ban sexist advertising. The ASA also published a review on the consequences of gender stereotyping in advertising, concluding that children in particular internalise the roles they see presented. In response, they intend to crack down on ads in which the woman alone is responsible for looking after the home, while the man is depicted as inept at cleaning or household management.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Ben arguing that: “Emancipation does not mean you have to have a naked woman as a sex object in almost every yoghurt advert… Instead of portraying her intellect, she is more likely to be reduced to her gender. “

To get a reaction, we took Ben’s comment to the German Federal Family Minister, Katarina Barley (a politician with the centre-left Social Democratic Party). What does she think about the idea of a ban on sexist advertising?

Adverts must stop reducing women to sex objects purely designed to sell products. That’s why we wanted to enforce a corresponding ban on sexist advertising in this legislature. Unfortunately, that was not possible with our coalition partner [Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats]. The image of women in a society also inevitably shapes people’s behaviour. That’s why it’s important that women are treated with dignity, especially in advertising.

It’s not our intention to ban women’s bodies being shown, such as for underwear or shower gel commercials. However, The principle of ‘sex sells’ with which everything is advertised is sexist and humiliating for all women.

For another perspective, we put Ben’s comment to the German journalist Birgit Kelle. She advocates positive images of traditional gender roles in her articles and books. Does she believe that prohibiting sexist advertising would improve the status of women?

No, I basically do not believe that. We cannot agree in Germany or Europe what constitutes ‘sexist advertising’. We see in the debate that sexism is interpreted quite differently. If we want to ban things, we have to define them first. What is sexist? What is just funny, which is perhaps permissive but not yet sexist? Opinions and definitions widely diverge on this.

I believe that we are better off with common sense. If in doubt, we have a national advertising agency that deals with the borderline cases and makes decisions. I find it difficult to accept that an official in his office should decide by himself what advertising in public spaces may and may not be seen.

Finally, we put Ben’s comment to Dr. Stevie Schmiedel, the director of the NGO Pinkstinks, who regularly organises campaigns against advertising depicting narrow gender roles. Would she support a ban?

I believe that a ban on sexist advertising can improve the status of women. The question is whether we need such a ban or whether there are other ways to raise awareness in society. Pinkstinks, for example, has launched the app Werbemelder*in with the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, with which one can report sexist advertising. Then it’s reviewed by us and possibly classified as sexist or stereotyping.

In addition, we also offer awareness-raising activities in the form of educational materials, counselling, and materials to talk about sexism. So companies no longer have to put their yoghurt, fishhooks, and dog food next to a naked woman.

Should sexist advertising be banned? Or is it simply a matter of taste? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Image Credits: Flickr / CC – m.p.3. – Portraits: (c) Steffen Kugler (Barley), (c) Kerstin Pukall (Kelle), (c) Yvonne Schmedemann (Schmiedel)

44 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Cristi Roth

    The only thing going crazy is this “freedom” s**t. There are 2 men and a woman, what the hell is sexist about that?

  2. avatar
    Svetoslav Todorov

    The people should vote with their wallets on such matters. Banning some advert just because someone is butthurt is not right.

  3. avatar
    Christofer Catilan

    There is nothing sexist in the picture at least. Only a bit butty :-) and most of the time we use out butt for sitting…

  4. avatar
    Ivan Burrows

    Isn’t it the ‘right’ of the models to decide what they do with their bodies ? Next you will be asking if all women should wear Burka’s because showing a naked ankle is sexist.

  5. avatar

    Definitely NO, sexual attraction is an essential motivation in our society. The reason to be a better person, to be better at work, to be clean, to exercise, so that your other half keep being attracted to you. Without it, human evolution will slow down, science, inventions, all get a boost by a simple sexual attraction, by our desire to be better from others.

  6. avatar

    The only thing going crazy is this “freedom” shit. There are 2 men and a woman, what the hell is sexist about that?

  7. avatar
    Luka Parac

    No. Politics is interfering so much in our lives that we don’t need yet another intervention. Especially regarding the market and marketing.

    • avatar
      Dionìs KC

      Marketing isn’t at all interventing in our lives showing us and our kids stuff we otherwise would never do or show in public?

    • avatar
      Luka Parac

      You as a parent have to intervene in your child’s uprising.
      For example, you won’t ban bars/clubs/pubs because your child might see drunk people or half naked girls on the street. You’ll educate your child about all aspects of life.

  8. avatar
    Andrew Potts

    If you mean advertising that constantly portrays men as useless while snappy girl saves the day, possibly

  9. avatar
    Andrew Potts

    The next thing will be ethnic quotas for people in advertising the liberal establishment are insane control freaks

  10. avatar
    John Vincent

    Bad taste is bad taste but asking a government administration to decide is a wholly bad idea. The ogre to slay is discrimination.

  11. avatar
    Aleksandrs Frederiks Znovs

    It is not sexist, it is simply rude, has bad taste and stupid. I think we should not put all what is in our bathrooms, toilets, pants, anuses to public! For nudity and sex we have bedrooms, cheap hotels, nudist beaches. If company cannot attract customers with the quality of product or its originality, it should immediately improve both, but not start something like this. It is similar like if no one is listening to you at the lunch table and you are starting to poo on your tray to get attention.

  12. avatar
    Artis Lapsiņš

    No, this is the kind of intrusive stuff people hate about the left. If an ad is in bad taste people will not buy the product.

  13. avatar
    Paul X

    Dr. Stevie Schmiedel, believes that ” a ban on sexist advertising can improve the status of women”

    So who is exactly is measuring this “status” ?, where is the league table which women will advance up if sexist advertising is banned? ..and what other groups are they being measured against? (let me guess, just men?)

    Yet another totally meaningless soundbite from the rampant feminist brigade which is totally unverifiable


  14. avatar
    catherine benning

    Should sexist advertising be banned?

    Three nice arses on show there. Why not remove the jackets?… Two in this picture are male and one is female. Why is that considered sexist? Clarify in what way.

    The problem with this entire feminist movement is, it is based on the hatred of the female condition. Both physical and psychological.They constantly push how dreadful it is being female. Housewife, mother, breasts, vaginas, how terrible it is to be born that way. As the difference makes them feel so inferior in their true skin. And to make it right, they must reduce the male of our species to a similar state of reference to their inferiority.

    I feel it is time women, and I mean women, not pseudo entities, began to tell the world how they love being female. What a feather in the cap it is to be a woman. How wonderful ‘not’ to be a man. How being a mother is a spiritual and physical creation no man will ever experience and how sad it is for him to not ever know the feeling of optimal incarnation.

    I wouldn’t want to be a man under any circumstances and yet this weird female preoccupation and projection of women, spouted in order to force them into replicas of their male counterparts, to be worthy and equal, is utter madness. I like having a door opened for me. A seat given should I take a bus. Respected for my less masculine appearance and muscle power. I don’t want to kill my own snakes, I like the powerful man who has a different shaped body to mine and who is willing to take on the chores not suited to my physique. How gallant of him to do that. I’m only too pleased to iron his shirt when he takes responsibility for the garbage I don’t like the smell of.

    No, I’m not a feminist, whatever that means, you see, I love men, they lighten my load and I am very happy they do. I do not want to change into a hairy soldier on the front line. That, to me, is a giant step down, not up. Yes, I want to be paid equally for the same job. Yes, I want to be appreciated equally for my mental ability and intellect. That does not mean I want take up heavy loads of back breaking work I am not at all physically or mentally suited for.

    Add to that, I don’t feel in any way inferior because my arse isn’t as hard as a rock to the touch, or, I don’t get excited by a picture of a nude male body in the subway. Visual excitement of this kind is a man thing, and I am not a man. Nature made us two quite different beings in order to fit together ‘yin and yang.’ It gives me great happiness when a man goes out of his way to make me feel my sense of womanliness. Nothing could be sexier.

    I feel women who are so distressed by their fortune at being born female, suffer with serious mental health issues. And that should be addressed by every one of us.

  15. avatar
    Andrew Potts

    Or maybe we should ban cultural advertising since most ads suggest a behaviour therefore each time it runs it is advertising that behaviour. It’s not hard to see in most big global advertisers their message might be subversive to a host culture

  16. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    A sign of a shameless, tasteless, careless, childless, reckless, disingenuous, egoistic and irresponsible society manifest itself in allowing shameless marketing by portraying false facts. It’s even brainless too! Funny?

    Be that shamelessness in politics, selling & trading or any misrepresentations of facts.

    How can one truly associate a few naked & maybe “hot” arses with a “cold” beer?

    Probably, one still rely’s & trusts on so called “self regulations” and the decency of common sense. Boycotts and complaints from the public against the manufacturers and their advertising agency’s (the sectors “Ombudsman”) would be a first step.

    Can a shameless “ideology” safeguard a total society- which ALSO includes trusting & innocent children?

  17. avatar
    Blagovest Blagoev

    Definitely no. It is bad taste, but this is hardly a ground to have it prohibited. Freedom of expression is a core value and right and so should remain!

  18. avatar
    Rumy B Milten

    Absolutely it should be banned because clearly offends Islam. In fact freedom of speech should be branded “hate speech” and banned to. We don’t want to offend anybody …do we?!

  19. avatar

    All advertising should be banned, or curtailed. It stimulates unsustainable consumption by urging people to buy stuff they don’t need. It wrenches attention away from the task at hand. It causes untold levels of inferiority complexes across most demographics. It rarely serves any purpose, except increasing sales of the same old product. We know C. Cola is NOT it, because it contributes to the causes of diabetes, yet we continue to allow the lies and deception of the ad campaigns. Likewise, for breakfast cereals served to children and marketed via mostly asexual ad campaigns.
    The age of “Post-truth” probably came about because companies, amongst others, have been allowed to spout endless lies about what their products are and do, and the effects of that are now plain to see everywhere, in the emergence of Idiocracy. Faced with a global crisis of extinction, the likes of which has not been seen since the end of the dinosaurs, institutions stand dumbfounded and unable to respond to any of the symptoms, let alone the causes, of this crisis. The argument for free speech is nothing but support of filibustering: an endless screaming match by millions competing for the attention of one another, as all sense of cohesion, argument and action are lost or demoted to acts of useless, neurotic, activity.

  20. avatar

    No. How can you decide which ad is sexist or not? Who should decide it ? We should cherish Freedom of Speech. Taking down so called sexist ads is an offense to the freedom.
    If a ad is indeed “sexist”, (telling women to die or calling gay men deplorable etc), let the consumers to vote by money.
    It will suffice.

  21. avatar
    Belamie Versco

    If the city displays are turning into a nudists’ beach, then perhaps you want to think about nudist quotas. As long as the ad is not discriminatory there is no ground for censorship.

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